Surviving Sexual Violence in the Media

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In times like these, it can be extremely difficult to tune out the onslaught of conversations about sexual violence. People are posting about it online and talking about it in person nonstop. For survivors of sexual violence, hearing people talk about it all the time can be exhausting and, in some cases, triggering. There’s no guaranteed way to avoid all the buzz and difficult feelings about sexual violence, but I do have a few tips on how to manage.

1) Develop a strategy for media consumption. 

When sexual violence is discussed constantly in the news, on social media, and in conversations with friends and family, it can be incredibly easy to feel triggered. An easy piece of advice would be to stay off the internet, but not only is that impossible for some people, but it’s also not going to block everything out. So when I know people are going to be talking about it, or when I want to stay informed without feeling unsafe, I find it helpful to develop a strategy for my consumption of media. For example: when I’m looking through news articles and Tweets about sexual violence, I skip past anything that seems inflammatory or argumentative, and instead focus on either objective-style news reporting or empathetic comments from trusted sources. I also find it’s a good idea to figure out ahead of time how to deal with alarming or triggering content. I start by writing down a list of things that help me to cope and carry it with me, like breathing exercises, funny memes or distractions, and friends I can call. I also write down reminders for myself, like “I am safe” and “I am strong enough to survive these feelings.” It’s nearly impossible to walk through life without being reminded of the violence that surrounds us, but self-care can combat these reminders, which brings me to the next tip…

2) Make self-care personal.

Self-care is the act of a person doing what they need to do to cope and process their feelings. I love the idea of self-care and the fact that it has entered the mainstream spotlight. But, sometimes I don’t relate to the typical self-care suggestions. I personally don’t like baths, I’m not a big tea drinker, and I often get distracted while listening to music. I know that these activities are often helpful for people who are feeling overwhelmed, but I frequently have to remind myself that these are not the only options for self-care. It can look however you want it to look. For me, I often re-watch Grey’s Anatomy for the thousandth time when I’m going through a particularly difficult period.

In terms of processing my feelings, sometimes it helps to write things down (like in our creative writing and zine-making workshop), but sometimes I would rather call a friend and talk about it, or make some abstract art to put images to how I’m feeling. All of those are perfectly normal modes of expression. Therapy can also be an incredibly useful tool in exploring any feelings that are coming up. If you don’t currently have access to a therapist, you can see one of our counselors or we can recommend one in the area.

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter how I do self-care or how people on Instagram do it — what matters is what works for you. Think about what makes you happy and calm, write down a list, and keep it for when times are hard. And if something isn’t making you feel better, ditch it! Try something else. As long as you’re being safe, there’s no wrong way to take care of yourself.

3) Don’t feel like you have to join the conversation.

For the last couple years, as #MeToo has taken over social media and the news cycle, it has become almost expected that survivors will share their story in order to bring attention to this tremendously important issue. However, it’s not your personal responsibility to raise awareness or educate at your own expense. Not everyone is ready to talk about their experiences at the same time. Some people are never ready to talk about it, and that’s okay. Not to mention, there’s a huge difference between sharing a story with trusted friends and loved ones, and sharing a story with the entire world. Some brave survivors are stepping up at a time when this movement is gaining a lot of momentum, and that is an incredibly beautiful thing. But no one is obligated to do that. Everyone has their own journey, and no one should feel pressured into doing something that would make them uncomfortable or unsafe. Choosing not to share does not make you any less of a strong survivor.

It’s your decision how to share your story. No matter how you react to the media and the public discussion of sexual violence, you are strong and your experience is valid. These tips may not give you everything you need to get through discussions of sexual violence in the media, but supportive friends and family, a therapist, and resources here at the OCRCC can also help. You can always call our hotline at 866-WE LISTEN (935-4783) or 919-967-7273. Please remember to reach out if you’re having trouble, and make space for yourself to experience your feelings as they come. This world of violence is difficult to navigate for us all, and it takes immense strength, but you’re not alone in this journey.


Olivia Neal is our 2018 Digital Media Intern at OCRCC, and a senior at UNC studying English and Women’s and Gender Studies. She loves poetry, soft indie music, and her cat, Baby Spice.


A Note from Our Executive Director: Making #MeToo Count

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Believe SurvivorsThese past few days have been heavy for those of us who care for sexual violence survivors- and even more so for the thousands of survivors in our own community. Sexual assault helplines across the state have seen an uptick in calls from survivors of all genders seeking support in their journey towards healing. Some of them want to press charges, inspired by the courage they’ve witnessed in Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony.

Regardless of your political views, you are surrounded by survivors of sexual violence, and many of them are struggling this week to keep their heads above water. If the #MeToo movement has taught us anything, it is that none of us is untouched by sexual violence. Over the last year, you have no doubt learned uneasy things about people you love. The promise of this movement all along has rested on the proposition that as more and more people who previously thought their lives had been untouched by sexual violence come to realize they, too, have survivors in their families and communities that their compassion will grow. When your sister, brother, daughter, spouse, best friend said “Me too,” they were hoping you might see their pain as valid and deserving of support. The gamble has been whether that support and compassion is transferable- if your survivors deserve support, maybe all survivors do? For those of us who spend our days working to end sexual violence and its impact, this week has been a nail-biting test of this gamble. The question on our minds has not been “Is she telling the truth?” but rather, “Will it matter?”

The answer to this question won’t come from the decisions rendered in this investigation and confirmation vote. There are far too many other complicating factors to muddy the waters here, and in the end I am not particularly hopeful that the partisan motivations of our leaders can be fully outweighed today by the courage and passion of survivors and advocates. Perhaps I’ll be proven wrong. I sure hope so. For me, the answer to this question will be answered in homes across the country, in classrooms and football practices and car rides and family dinners.

I invite you to read this message free from the partisan arguments and analysis that we’ve come to accept as debate, and to consider what we have all just witnessed from the perspective of a young survivor of sexual assault who has not yet found the words to describe what they’ve endured. Or better yet, as that young person’s parent, teacher, or neighbor. If you have found yourself questioning the motivations or veracity of those who come forward to disclose past sexual assaults, that is of course your right. But consider the message it sends to that young person in earshot of you. Will she tell you when she’s been hurt? Will he come to you to recount the horrors visited upon him by his classmates? Or might their memories of this historic moment be marked by clues that despite what they’ve been told in school, at home and in their community, it’s actually not ever safe to name their attacker?

If you find yourself struggling under the weight of silence, doubt, and uncertainty, know that there are whole communities of people ready to receive you and your story. There is a place you can go where you will be believed, you will be supported, and you will be cared for.  You do not need a reason. You do not need to have all the details straight in your memory. You don’t even need to tell us what happened. You can just call.

Rape crisis centers have played a critical role in healing for survivors and communities for decades.  Through the provision of 24 Hour Crisis Helplines, pro bono therapy and support groups, and the promise of being by your side as you navigate whatever steps you want to take next, rape crisis centers provide a lifeline for survivors, even when their families cannot. If you or someone you know needs help, please consider calling us or your local rape crisis center. The North Carolina Coalitions Against Sexual Assault maintains an up-to-date listing of all helplines across the state. Outside of NC, contact the National Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN): 1-800-656-4673.

Perhaps you’re not feeling the need for support, but for action. Consider adding “Support My Local Rape Crisis Center” to your task list. Cash donations matter- it makes it possible for us to do all we do at no cost to survivors and their families. We also always need volunteers– to answer the Helpline, empower kids through education, and help us spread the word.

The answer to the question of whether or not the #MeToo movement has made a difference depends on us. Decide today if you’ll make it count.


Rachel Valentine is Executive Director at the Orange County Rape Crisis Center in Chapel Hill. Rachel can be contacted at rvalentine@ocrcc.org or 919-968-4647.

Help us provide help, hope, and healing to those in our community and across the state, by making a gift to the Orange County Rape Crisis Center today. You can donate via credit card on our donation page or by sending a personal check to P.O. Box 4722, Chapel Hill, NC, 27515.

 


OCRCC Announces Rachel Valentine as New Executive Director

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Picture of Rachel ValentineThe Board of Directors at Orange County Rape Crisis Center (OCRCC) is excited to announce the hiring of Rachel Valentine as its new Executive Director. Although Ms. Valentine is new to the position, she is certainly no stranger to the OCRCC and the fight to end sexual violence. Rachel has been on staff with the organization since 2011, and has served as its Community Education Director for the past three years.

According to board president, Kandace Farrar, the entire board is “…elated that Rachel will be taking over this new leadership role.” Rachel was unanimously chosen by the board at its most recent meeting, following a competitive search. “During the seven years Rachel has been at the Center she has gained wide respect in the community and emerged as a leader in this field,” said Ms. Farrar.

A native of Seattle, Rachel is a 2008 graduate of UNC where she was a Morehead-Cain scholar and earned a degree in Women’s and Gender Studies with a second major in Latin American Studies and minor in Economic Justice. Prior to joining the staff at OCRCC, Rachel held a variety of leadership roles with Orange County Literacy Council, Citizen Schools, and the Ella Baker Women’s Center for Community Activism.

“This is such an exciting time for our organization,” said Rachel. “As we continue to grow into our values of excellence in care and accessibility for all, we stay grounded in our roots as a community-based organization. We are so grateful to our community for making us a trustworthy source of help, hope, and healing for so many survivors, and we invite any of you reading this now to join us in our mission as a volunteer or supporter.”

Rachel assumed her new duties on Monday, July 16. She takes the reigns from Jaclyn Gilstrap who has held the title of Interim Executive Director since March and describes Rachel as “a kind and empathetic leader, to whom staff regularly turn during times of uncertainty…” and “an extremely intelligent self-starter with a mind towards forward progress and a leadership style that is cautious, but always optimistic.”

Jaclyn, a former board member and long-time Center supporter, will continue on with OCRCC for the next several weeks to assist with the transition.

“Rachel has been an essential part of our staffing transition, and I couldn’t be more confident in her ability to lead this organization into the next era. I’m especially excited to see the ways in which she helps expand the Center’s racial equity focus and community partnerships,” she added.

Gentry Hodnett, the Center’s Development & Communications Coordinator, has worked closely with Rachel at the Center for over four years. Gentry started with OCRCC as a volunteer and claims Rachel was one of the first people who made her fall in love with the Center and the programs it provides.

“She has an incredible way of helping all people feel seen, heard, and cared for in a way that stretches beyond empathy,” Gentry said. “The entire staff is thrilled to have her at the helm of our organization and we could not imagine a better fit for this role.”


If you have any questions or would just like to say hello, Rachel can be contacted at rvalentine@ocrcc.org or 919-968-4647.

 


Myth or Fact: “It Wasn’t Really Rape” 

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Myth: If she didn’t say no or fight back, then it wasn’t really rape.

Fact: If the victim was incapable of consent, if they were too scared to say no, or if they were coerced, then it was rape.

This myth assumes that victims will act a certain way during an assault. Many people imagine how they might react to the threat of violence. But without personal experience or an understanding of victim psychology, these imaginings are often not very close to reality. Furthermore, everyone reacts differently to the threat of violence, and there’s no “right” or “wrong” way for a victim to respond.

This myth also assumes that perpetrators are incapable of recognizing whether or not the victim is consenting unless they verbally say no. But people give or withhold consent in a nonverbal way all the time. The perpetrator is capable of recognizing and responding appropriately to nonverbal cues; they just choose to ignore them.

Many victims may be too scared to say no.

Sometimes the perpetrator may verbally threaten violence; sometimes the act itself or the physical size or strength of the perpetrator may cause the victim to fear further violence. Further, many victims may be so afraid that they are incapable of saying no. We often hear about the human “fight or flight” response. These two responses call up extra bursts of energy to either fight off an attacker or flee a dangerous situation. Both of these responses mean the victim has some hope of survival. But when the victim is so overwhelmed that they feel they have no hope of avoiding the danger, they may freeze instead of fighting or fleeing. Some victims may pass out, and others may disassociate, meaning they mentally detach from their bodies in order to avoid processing the trauma happening to them. The freeze response stops the victim from being capable of saying no, fighting back, or running from the attack. It may also prevent them from feeling pain during the attack and may cause them to have incomplete or even no memories afterward. In light of this additional freeze response, most psychologists now refer to the “fight, flight, or freeze” response.

Someone who is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol is incapable of giving consent.

If a person is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, they are unable to consent to sex— even if they verbally say yes. Oftentimes, we think of “incapacitated” as someone who is asleep or unconscious, but the truth is that sometimes, a person is incapacitated but is still able to walk, talk and retain some basic functioning skills. However, that person is still unable to give consent because they are incapable of making informed, rational judgments. A helpful analogy for this situation is that if a person is too drunk to drive, they are probably too drunk to give clear, conscious consent. Many of us have likely heard the myth that if a person chooses to engage in drug or alcohol use, they are responsible for taking care of themselves and making sure that no one takes advantage of them. This statement is untrue and blames survivors for their own assaults. In reality, the person initiating each sex act is always responsible for obtaining clear consent, regardless of their own or others’ level of intoxication.   

Someone who is coerced into sexual activity is not giving active consent.

If they were bribed, threatened, or blackmailed, then that is not true consent. Additionally, someone who is emotionally manipulated or worn down from repeated requests for sex may not be giving active consent either. The bottom line is that consent to any form of sexual activity is enthusiastic, affirmative, conscious, and freely-made. It is not transferrable from one time to the next—consent must be sought and received every single time. Consent is an ongoing process and is constantly communicated between partners through mutually understandable words or actions. Everyone has a responsibility to make sure their partner(s) feel happy and safe when engaging in any form of sexual activity.

This post is part of a series on Myths & Facts about Sexual Violence:

– Myth #1: “He Didn’t Mean To”
– Myth #2: “She Lied”
– Myth #3: “She Asked For It”
Myth #4: “It Wasn’t Really Rape”


In Solidarity with our Latinx and Immigrant Community

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The OCRCC is deeply saddened and troubled by the recent ICE raids in Orange County. We want to express our solidarity with our Latinx and immigrant community, and our appreciation of the actions that El Centro Hispano has already taken. Raids like these damage individuals and communities and tear apart families- families that are often already disproportionately disadvantaged. Words never seem sufficient in expressing our disappointment and pain as we work to come to terms with the fear and chaos that these raids have created. The OCRCC would also like to reiterate that our services are confidential and that client information is kept private to the full extent allowed by law. If you have any questions about confidentiality, we welcome them. In an effort to minimize misinformation or create unnecessary panic, we encourage you to fact check any information you share and to reach out to El Centro Hispano for updates.

We offer our love and support to all those who have been impacted by these attacks on our community, and we offer the below resources (thanks to the Latino Health Coalition for sharing). Additionally, traumatic events like this may trigger previous traumas, including those resulting from sexual violence. If you or someone you know could benefit from our bilingual, free and confidential services, please contact our 24 hour help line at 1-866-WE LISTEN.

El Centro de Asistencia contra la Violencia Sexual está profundamente entristecido y preocupado por las recientes redadas de ICE en el Condado de Orange. Queremos expresar solidaridad con nuestra comunidad Latina e inmigrante, además de nuestro aprecio por las acciones que El Centro Hispano ha llevado a cabo. Redadas como esta lesionan no sólo a los individuos sino también a la comunidad en general, además de separar a las familias; familias que frecuentemente ya están desproporcionadamente en desventaja. Las palabras nunca son suficientes para expresar la decepción y el dolor que se siente a medida que trabajamos para llegar a un acuerdo con el miedo y el caos que estas redadas han creado. El Centro de Asistencia contra la Violencia Sexual también quiere reiterar que nuestros servicios son confidenciales y que la información de los clientes se mantiene privada a la medida que es permitido por la ley. Todas las preguntas que tenga sobre la confidencialidad serán bienvenidas. En un esfuerzo por minimizar la desinformación o crear pánico, los alentamos a que verifiquen la información que comparten y que se comuniquen con el Centro Hispano para mayor información.  

 Ofrecemos nuestro cariño y soporte a todas las personas que han sido impactadas por estos ataques a la comunidad, y ofrecemos los recursos mencionados más adelante (agradecemos a la Coalición de Salud Latina por compartir estos recursos). Asimismo, queremos reiterar que eventos traumáticos como este pueden detonar síntomas de trauma, incluidos aquellos relacionados con la violencia sexual. Si usted o alguien que usted conoce se puede beneficiar de nuestros servicios bilingües, gratuitos y confidenciales, por favor llame a nuestra línea de 24 horas 7 días a la semana al 1-866-935-4783.

Some attorneys recommended by El Centro/Algunos abogados recomendados por El Centro:

 

Additional Resources/ Recursos adicionales:

Emergency Planning Guide for North Carolina Immigrants (English/Spanish)/ Guia de emergencia para los inmigrantes de Carolina del Norte: http://www.ncjustice.org/sites/default/files/EMERGENCY%20PLANNING%20GUIDE%20for%20IMMIGRANTS–final-web.pdf

Red Cards (English/Spanish)/tarjetas rojas: https://www.ilrc.org/red-cards

Know Your Rights (Various Languages)/ conoce tus derechos:
https://www.aclu.org/feature/know-your-rights-discrimination-against-immigrants-and-muslims?redirect=feature/know-your-rights-immigration#immigration

NC Justice Center has a website they designed to inform individuals about their rights when detained by police and/or ICE.  It’s available in English and Spanish, and has links for certain available resources. Este sitio esta diseñado para informar a los individuos acerca de sus derechos cuando son detenidos por la policía y/o ICE. Está en inglés y español y tiene links para otros recursos:  http://pickedupnc.com/en/

 


Therapy & Counseling: What’s the Difference?

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The terms “therapy” and “counseling” can be used in many different ways, but in our work, we use them to mean different and specific things. To distinguish between the two, it may be helpful to refer to the latter as “crisis counseling” or “crisis intervention.”

Crisis intervention is a brief service conducted by trained professionals that focuses on offering stability and support during an episode of crisis or period of specific need. The advocate provides emotional support, assesses the client’s needs, brainstorms and explains options, and assists the client in connecting with helpful resources. Depending on what’s needed at the time, the session may aim to resolve an emotional or mental health crisis, or it may aim to answer specific questions or connect to specific resources. Crisis intervention is intended to be a short-term intervention rather than an ongoing source of support: Most OCRCC clients talk to an advocate anywhere from one to five times. When someone is in an immediate crisis, crisis intervention works to resolve the current episode so that the client is able to focus on their long-term healing process. Often one of the helpful resources that advocates connect clients to is therapy.

Therapy goes beyond immediate stabilization to help clients begin the journey of healing from trauma and other major life stressors. In the process of healing, therapy aims to manage and resolve trauma symptoms in the long term. Therapy is an intervention delivered by licensed mental health professionals who are required to document and justify their treatment strategies. Therapy is a longer-term service designed to move past stabilization and delve into the causes of stressors. The Center’s Bilingual Therapy Program provides up to 16 sessions of trauma-focused therapy to aid survivors in processing their trauma and alleviating their triggers and symptoms.

Sexual assault victim advocates and trauma therapists often work together to meet all of the survivors’ needs so that they can move from surviving to thriving. Advocates – like our expert staff and trained volunteer Companions – help to stabilize clients during episodes of crisis, whether prior to beginning therapy or in between therapy sessions. Our therapists provide a safe space for survivors to dig deeper into painful experiences and resolve emotional and somatic reactions so that they can live a full life.

Learn more about our Bilingual Therapy Program at ocrcc.org/therapy, or call our help line at 866-WE LISTEN or 919-967-7273.


Preventing and Deterring Abusive Relationships in High School

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In honor of Relationship Violence Awareness Month, we bring you the first in a blog series by our resident expert on high school students,  Trinity Casimir.

What does an abusive relationship look like? When having conversations in school health classes or watching a movie, an abusive relationship conjures up certain images: a woman taking her children and escaping her husband on a Greyhound bus, broken dishes on the floor, a child carefully choosing outfits to conceal bruises, yelling in the night. While these scenarios are real and devastating, they do not encompass the full definition of abuse. What about the people suffering when no one has laid a finger on them? What about the men and boys pressured to appear invincible when they are hurt? What about high school students, whose relationships are fundamentally different from those of married couples, or even adults in general?

While most students are taught how to identify abuse, they may only be taught to see a narrow set of signs.  According to stoprelationshipabuse.org, relationship abuse includes a wide variety of tactics used to create a power imbalance in the relationship. Behaviors like emotional coercion, isolation, and intimidation can be used in any relationship at any age. A primary reason many teenagers in abusive relationships struggle to name that reality is because they do not identify with the victim that they see portrayed in media or that they learn about in health class. Likewise, teenagers who engage in abuse excuse their behavior because they have never seen themselves as the abuser. What abuse looks like in a high school relationship has yet to be illustrated, and toxic behaviors are quickly becoming normalized. In my school, it is almost commonplace for a partner to prevent their significant other from talking to groups of people or wearing certain clothes, to guilt trip and threaten them. These are all real forms of abuse but are often dismissed simply as childish behavior or as a result of hormones.

Another primary reason abusive relationships in high school go unaddressed is a failure on the part of adults to take teenagers’ relationships seriously. Adults who do not consider the gravity of teenagers’ romantic lives will fail to recognize the severity of abuse when it happens, which in turn deters high schoolers from reporting abuse. By seeking help, a student risks retribution, and when the adult takes no action, a student is left even more vulnerable. When students feel that they have no adult support or advocacy, they are severely limited in their options to escape an abusive relationship.

Some resources do, however, center teen lives and provide insight into how to help teens cope with relationship abuse. The website loveisrespect.org demonstrates the obstacles that youth in particular face in abusive relationships, and goes further to highlight the ways that identity matters with an exploration of special issues for certain cultures, LGBT+ couples, and immigration status that can further hinder someone from seeking help or addressing the toxicity of their relationship. For the more visually-minded, the One Love Foundation has created a series of videos on Youtube clearly contrasting healthy and unhealthy behaviors in a relationship. These videos give scenarios that allow for a difficult topic to be easily understood and are an excellent teaching tool for parents and teachers. The foundation also produced a film called “Escalation” that is recommended for a high school workshop.

So to answer the question, “What does an abusive relationship look like?”, it takes many different forms- all of which are valid and important to identify. Abusive relationships in high school remain underrepresented in the media, so we must take it upon ourselves to question “normalized” behaviors and encourage teenagers to do so in their own lives. Pushing for authority figures in schools to become educated on various types of abuse is also fundamental to create a supportive community that can ensure a safer environment for high schoolers.

_____

Trinity is is volunteer at the OCRCC and a student at East Chapel Hill High School. She is interested in sociology and the intersections between gender, race, and sexual assault as well as the presence of rape culture among youth. She is also a member of the Youth Against Rape Culture club at East.


Standing with Charlottesville

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The Orange County Rape Crisis Center works to end sexual violence and its impact for all people. To this end, we are committed to sexual violence survivor support and prevention efforts that address the full spectrum of violence that survivors experience, and the interconnected nature of racial and sexual violence.

The following is a statement from the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NCCASA) about the recent violence against protesters in Charlottesville, VA. As a member agency of NCCASA and with a commitment to diversity and nondiscrimination, we support their statement.

It is with heavy hearts that we correspond with you all today. This past weekend in Charlottesville, VA, our entire country was impacted by the violence. As a supporter of freedom of speech, I think it is important to distinguish when one person’s rights violates another person’s or group of people’s rights. What happened this weekend is a culmination of violence and privilege which continues to perpetuate a culture of racism and rape. In order to end a culture of rape we must also address all forms of oppression.

I hope as leaders in this movement, we will continue to hold our country in our hearts and lovingly hold ourselves accountable. There is much work to be done, and as consumers of media we too are triggered, and all of our bodies hold trauma. In the midst of all that is happening in our country, I want to continue to work alongside of each of you, so please take care of yourselves. We must take care of ourselves in order to continue to fight for the rights of ALL.

In solidarity,

Monika

NCCASA

The Center maintains a commitment to providing excellent and culturally competent services to survivors of all genders, including support for survivors with complex trauma histories that include racialized violence.

If you or someone you care about could use some support, please get in touch with us via our 24-Hour Help Line or by coming into our office during business hours. No appointment needed.

 


How to Talk to Kids about Abuse

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If you are concerned that your child has been exposed to inappropriate touching or child sexual abuse, you might wonder how to begin a conversation. With years of experience as both parent and educator, I’d like to offer some guidance on where to start with this difficult topic.

Start by talking about touches and who they like them from. I like to start the conversation by asking if I could give them a high five or a hug. I respect their response. I then talk about different types of touches so they understand that they may like some touches, but not others.

Do you like hugs? Holding hands? Tickles? Kisses?

Then talk about who they like certain touches from.

Do you like hugs from me? Your friend? Your teacher? Your brother or sister?

When do you like those touches?

This lets them know they can like different touches from different people and at different times.

Once this base of understanding is established, you can then talk about feelings around certain people.

How do you feel when you are around___________?

(If they are young and don’t have a large feelings vocabulary, try offering some examples such as happy, safe, worried, sad, and uncomfortable.)

Young children might not be able to relate detailed and chronological descriptions, but they will remember how experiences and interactions made them feel.

Has anyone has touched your body in a way that makes you feel hurt or sad?

Has anyone touched your body without asking first?

Kids might start listing all the times a kid at school or a sibling poked, pinched, or hit them. If you try to justify the actions, explain why it happened, or say it wasn’t a big deal, the child will learn that it is not safe to share with you. Listen to them and validate their feelings. They may be testing you with these stories to see how you will respond and if they can trust you enough to share a story about something that really hurt or scared them.

Has anyone touched the private parts of your body?

If they mention things like helping in the bathroom or getting dressed or at the doctor, explain that it is okay for some grownups to touch your private parts if they are helping to keep you safe and healthy. However, they should still ask first. If they don’t feel comfortable with some adults helping them, make a plan for what they can do to get help from a different adult – an adult they trust.

Has anyone told you to keep a secret that is making you feel worried/sad/scared?

A common tactic of offenders is to tell the child to keep it secret, with the explicit or implied threat of getting in trouble if they tell.

Your body belongs to you. If something that someone said or did is making you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, it is not your fault.

You deserve to feel safe and I want to help you.

If the child talks about touches they don’t like, people that make them feel sad or uncomfortable, or instances of inappropriate touch, you can validate their feelings and let them know it is not their fault.

It is okay to like different touches from different people.

I can understand how that would make you feel that way.

You look worried or upset, can you tell me how it makes you feel to talk about this?

If someone didn’t ask you first, then it was not okay for them to touch your body at all.

If someone showed you their private parts or asked you to touch them, and you did, it is not your fault. They knew it was wrong and they should not have done that.

If at any point they disclose sexual touching or abuse, stay calm. If you demonstrate anger toward the person that did that, the child might also think you are mad at them, or that they did something wrong. They need your support and help.

Thank you for sharing with me.

I know it is hard/scary/confusing to talk about this and you are so brave.

It is not your fault, you have not done anything wrong.

No one should touch your body without your permission.

Then call DSS to make a report. And you can always call our 24-Hour Help Line for support, concerns, or questions. We can help you make a report if you’d like.

Even if your child does not disclose inappropriate touching, don’t stop the conversation. Revisit this with your young children on a regular basis. The best protection for children is prevention. Let your child know that their body belongs to them and you respect that. And always model asking before touching.

Every night before bed, I ask my growing son if he would like a hug or a kiss. Some days he says yes and some days he says no. In fact, he is 12 now and most days he says no. But every once in a while he says yes and squeezes me tight. I want him to know that I will respect his body autonomy and that I am always there if he needs a little extra physical and emotional support.

When I model this behavior for my child, I am hopeful that he will internalize the concept of consent before touching and be comfortable with asking, especially when he starts having intimate relationships. This is true prevention.

Alexis Kralic is our Education & Finance Coordinator. In addition to managing the agency’s finances and bookkeeping, she coordinates Safe Touch, our safety education program for preschool and elementary students.

If you want to learn more please join us at our next Stewards of Children training. Info below:


Myth or Fact: “She Asked for It”

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Myth: If a woman is raped, she probably asked for it in some way.

Fact: Only the perpetrator is responsible for the decision to violate someone. 

This myth restricts women’s behavior and places blame on survivors rather than perpetrators. Women and those who identify as female are often expected to dress or behave in certain ways and to follow strict but contradictory rules to protect themselves from harm. This myth perpetuates the double standard that reinforces an expectation of male aggressiveness and the perceived responsibility of women to avoid any behavior that could be seen as provocative.

This myth also helps distance non-survivors from survivors. By insisting that a survivor played some role, others can alleviate their own fear of assault by assuming that certain behaviors will protect them from a similar circumstance. For example, if you believe women are partially responsible for being assaulted if they were drinking, then you can take comfort in the idea that you are not at risk if you don’t drink too much. Or if you believe women are partially responsible for being assaulted if they were dressed provocatively, then you can take comfort in the idea that you are not at risk if you dress more modestly.

But offenders select their victims not based on the way they dress, but rather on their perceived vulnerability. Rapists target people who seem vulnerable to assault and who seem less likely to report them.

Asking potential victims to be responsible for protecting themselves from victimization is a form of oppression. Only perpetrators are responsible for their behavior, and they should be held accountable. Even if you believe that women should adhere to certain behavioral standards – how they dress, how much they drink, who they spend time with, etc. – the consequences of not meeting these standards should never be rape. No one “asks” to be raped, and no one deserves to be raped. There is never an excuse, an invitation, or a justification for sexual violence. Bottom line.

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This post is part of a series on Myths & Facts about Sexual Violence:

Myth #1: “He Didn’t Mean To”
Myth #2: “She Lied”
Myth #3: “She Asked For It”
Myth #4: “It Wasn’t Really Rape”


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